Scientists Used a Robot to Study How Prehistoric Lizards Walked

via Smithsonian

Paleontologists face a constant dilemma. The organisms that inspire their scientific attention are long dead, impossible to watch in life. Sci-fi solutions like bringing species back from extinction or time travel aren’t available to assist. But by combining exceptional fossils with robotics, a team of researchers has reconstructed how one of our distant, lizard-like relatives walked tall.

A fortuitous pairing of fossils provided a place to start. At first glance, the 300 million-year-old Orobates pabsti might look like a chunky lizard. In actuality, this animal from the Permian period is what experts know as a stem amniote—a vertebrate that’s part of the evolutionary lineage between amphibians, which reproduce in the water, and the last common ancestor of mammals and reptiles, which lay eggs on land. And what makes Orobates stand out is that fossil skeletons of this animal have been found with tracks the creatures made in life.

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